Pelicans hope to repeat Las Vegas Summer League success
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Pelicans will take their first baby steps in preparation for next season when they send a group of youngsters to compete in the Las Vegas Summer League beginning this week.
Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, Hebert Jones and other key veterans won’t be on hand.
Head coach Willie Green won’t be at the controls when the team arrives in Las Vegas on Wednesday and plays its first game Saturday.
But a bunch of young players – led by Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, Jose Alvarado and all three members of this year’s draft class – will be competing in a five-game schedule over eight or nine days.
Green coached the team himself a year ago in order to make a hands-on evaluation of members of his new team.
He said he has a simple goal for this Pelicans’ Summer League team: “compete – compete every practice, every game, every opportunity to lift weights and work on their conditioning.”
This summer the team is being coached by assistant Jarron Collins, who acknowledged that “the bar is set pretty high” after the Pelicans won all five of their games in Las Vegas last summer.
“At the end of the day we’re trying to win games,” Collins said. “The goal is to go 5-0. It’s crucial that they continue to develop what they established last year.”
Last season Marshall, who was coming off a solid rookie season as an undrafted free agent, first-round draft choice Murphy, second-round draft choice Herbert Jones and undrafted rookie Jose Alvarado led the way.
“I knew during Summer League that we had a special rookie class based off of what we were doing,” Murphy said.
All three rookies emerged as important contributors as the Pelicans overcame a slow start to the regular season to grab a play-in spot, won two elimination games and won two games against top-seeded Phoenix before losing in a first-round playoff series.
Marshall said after the playoff series ended in late April that the rookies in Vegas last summer “set the standard.”
“Then the real team came in, picked up on it and took it to another level,” Marshall added.
So what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
Alvarado wasn’t with the team for its three practices at the team’s training facility, which ended Tuesday. He was with the Puerto Rican national team and Collins said Alvarado will join the Pelicans this week.
“For all our guys this is an important time of year,” Collins said. “We saw how important they were for us down the stretch.”
The Pelicans know what they have in Marshall, Murphy, Jones and Alvarado. Jones is not with this year’s team.
Marshall said he expects to play in just two games and Collins said other veterans such as Alvarado and Murphy will also see limited time.
“Naji, Trey and Jose are not going to play the duration of the Summer League,” Collins said, “so there will be opportunities for everyone.
“That being said, obviously the guys that are in our program, we’ll take a good look at them first and then everybody will get their chance to play and compete for minutes and show what they can do, not only to our organization but to the entire NBA.”
This summer’s featured attractions will be first-round draft choice Dyson Daniels and second-round draft choices E.J. Liddell and Karlo Matkovic.
Daniels, 6-foot-8, has the ball-handling passing skills to play point guard, but potentially could play anywhere on the floor.
“He’ll play all the positions,” Collins said after Tuesday’s practice. “We want to get him comfortable and see what else he can do.”
Murphy said compared to last summer he has “a sense of calm” and “he’s giving the young guys some pointers and advice – just hoop.”
Matkovic, who’s expected to send a season or two in Europe before joining the Pelicans full-time, called himself “an under-the-radar guy.”
At 6-11, he’s seen mostly as a pick-and-roll player who can get to the rim and protect the rim, but, he said, “nobody knows it, but I can shoot a little bit.”
Other notables on the roster include Jared Harper, who played a few mop-up minutes for the Pelicans down the stretch last season, a couple of highly regarded undrafted free agents in Dereon Sebron of N.C. State and John Butler of Florida State, as well as John Petty II, who was a college teammate of Jones for four seasons and 2020 No. 1 Kira Lewis Jr. for two seasons at Alabama.
Pelicans Summer League schedule:
Date Time (CDT) Opponent
July 9 9 p.m. Portland
July 11 5 p.m. Atlanta
July 13 5 p.m. Washington
July 15 10 p.m. L.A. Lakers
July 16 or 17 TBD TBD
All Summer League games will be televised live on one of the ESPN networks or NBA TV. They also will be streamed live on the ESPN app.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…